The head of Canada’s public broadcaster will remain in her role for another 18 months, after her contract was extended by the federal heritage minister.
Catherine Tait was appointed CEO and president of CBC/Radio-Canada in July 2018 but instead of wrapping her five-year term this summer, the Canadian Heritage Department said Thursday she will remain until Jan. 2, 2025.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Tait agreed to stay on to deliver on several files, including the review of the public broadcaster’s license renewal, the launch of the corporation’s first national Indigenous strategy and preparations for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
He added that continuity in the role is important over the next year-and-a-half because of heritage-related bills being passed by the Liberal government.
“Given the scope of change with the implementation of the Online Streaming Act and the proposed Online News Act, the continuity in her role at the helm of the public broadcaster is key during this time,” Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday.
“Ms. Tait’s willingness to complete this critical work shows her deep commitment to the value of public broadcasting in Canada.”
Canadian Heritage said an independent committee will launch an open and transparent process to find the company’s next new CEO.
Tait, the first woman to serve in the role, said that in her second term she wants to focus on work with other media to address polarization and distrust that is undermining democratic and open societies.
“I believe Canada’s public broadcaster has a unique role to play to address disinformation, build trust in verified and trusted news, and, most importantly, to foster Canadian conversations in English, French and Indigenous languages,” Tait said in a statement.
The news was welcomed by the Canadian Media Producers Association, which touted Tait as “a fearless leader and a vocal champion of Canadian stories. The organization Friends, a longtime defender of the public broadcaster, applauded the move “to keep Ms. Tait’s firm hand at the wheel during these turbulent times.”
However, Peter Menzies, a senior fellow with the Macdonald Laurier Institute and a former vice chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, speculated on what lay behind the move, suggesting it speaks to “some confusion at Heritage about what they want the CBC to be.”
Tait’s predecessor, the lawyer Hubert Lacroix, served as president for 10 years from 2008 to 2018.
“It’s so short-term that it’s impossible really for her to pursue any sort of agenda in that short time frame, knowing that she’s going to be replaced, so I say she’s as lame a duck as there is at a particularly difficult time for the CBC, which is sort of unfortunate,” said Menzies.
“Everybody’s term comes to an end from time to time, but it’s kind of remarkable to me that the government obviously wants somebody else but they haven’t gotten around to figuring out how they’re going to do it.
“They’ve known for five years that her term would be up this summer. And it seems to have just caught up with them.”
CBC executive vice-president Barbara Williams said she was delighted with the renewal.
“She’s provided tremendous leadership to CBC/Radio-Canada and we are all, as her team here, excited to continue to be able to work with her going forward.”
CMPA president and CEO Reynolds Mastin congratulated Tait on the “well-deserved” renewal.
“She truly values the importance of independent production and works to ensure that Canadian programming reflects the diverse perspectives and experiences of Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” Mastin said Thursday in a release.
“As the country’s most significant commissioner of Canadian content, the CBC will continue to play an important role under Catherine’s leadership, partnering with independent producers to provide compelling content to Canadians and audiences around the world.”
The executive director of Friends also called on Ottawa to guarantee long-term, sustainable funding for the CBC in light of federal Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre’s recent calls to “defund the CBC.”
“Between the Conservative Party of Canada’s daily threats to defund the CBC, and the relentless assault by foreign tech giants on Canadian news and programming, the CBC is under unprecedented attack,” Marla Boltman said in an emailed statement.
“While we have not always agreed with CBC management’s choices when it comes to closing its funding gap, Catherine Tait has proven to be a staunch defender of our national public broadcaster and Canadian cultural sovereignty.”